Methane Dynamics Associated with Tidal Processes in the Lower Columbia River

Anna S. Pfeiffer-Herbert, Fredrick G. Prahl, Tawnya Peterson, Matthew Wolhowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Tidally varying methane (CH 4 ) concentrations in estuaries may arise from physical advection and by chemical effects tied to varying exposure to salinity. An investigation of spatial and temporal variability in water-column CH 4 was conducted in the lower Columbia River using shipboard surveys and time series data from fixed stations. Peaks in CH 4 coincided with ebb tides at multiple sites located along the flank of the estuary adjacent to tidal flats and wetlands. High-resolution measurements taken at the outflow of a shallow lateral bay revealed that these CH 4 peaks were positively related to tidal amplitude when the lateral bay was exposed exclusively to freshwater over the tide cycle; in contrast, this relationship was inversed when brackish waters were involved. A positive relationship between tidal amplitude and CH 4 is consistent with a mechanism of tidal pumping from bottom sediments in the bay. In the presence of saltwater, however, a higher-than-expected flux of CH 4 could occur via suppression of removal processes such as biological oxidation. We present a conceptual model of tidal pumping modified by diurnal inequality in tidal amplitude and effects of salinity on sediment CH 4 oxidation to explain CH 4 variability on tidal to seasonal time-scales. The combined influences of tides and salinity likely affect CH 4 emissions in estuaries worldwide, making sea level rise and estuarine geomorphological change relevant factors for consideration when accounting for estuarine contributions to global methane budgets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Biogeochemical fluxes
  • Estuary
  • Methane
  • Tidal pumping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology

Cite this